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Rookies Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei emerging for Rangers

New York Rangers left wing Pavel Buchnevich looks

New York Rangers left wing Pavel Buchnevich looks on against the New York Islanders during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

EDMONTON, Alberta — Pavel Buchnevich was riding a stationary bike in a corridor of the Scotiabank Saddledome after the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames late Saturday night when teammate Adam Clendening strolled by and asked the Russian youngster: “What was that, four in five?”

Buchnevich looked up from his reading material and raised four fingers.

“Four in four,” the rookie said with a grin, meaning four goals in his last four games and one in each.

Buchnevich scored late in the second period against the Flames, giving him a four-game goal streak entering Sunday night’s game in Edmonton. That’s the longest single-season goal streak by a Rangers rookie since Derek Stepan scored in four straight in December 2010.

Inside the visitors locker room, defenseman Brady Skjei was sitting off to the side as Canadian camera crews hustled to speak with captain Ryan McDonagh, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and highly-touted college star Jimmy Vesey, all of whom have been immense contributors to the Rangers success this season.

But the rise of Buchnevich and Skjei — two draft picks turned rookies this season — cannot be ignored or underestimated in the 11-4 start by the Rangers, who continued their road trip against the Oilers here on Sunday.

The rapid emergence of the pair has surprised plenty of people. Not that Skjei, a first-round pick in the 2012 draft, or Buchnevich, 21, a third-rounder in 2013, weren’t expected to become NHL regulars. Far from that. The Rangers front office was counting on them to succeed as soon as possible.

With just 27 games under his belt, Skjei has moved into a top-four spot on the Blueshirts blue line, and Buchnevich is tied for fifth among NHL rookie in goals, despite having played in just 10 games. And both are skating on the team’s power-play units.

Against Calgary, Skjei, the smooth-skating, 22-year-old lefty played the right side on the second pair for the first time this season. And Buchnevich, moved up to the second line with Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello, scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in the third period.

On Sunday, here they were again, Skjei skating with Marc Staal, and Buchnevich with his linemates, against the Oilers, with their expanding collection of young stars, including Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle and Jesse Puljujarvi.

Ten days ago, Skjei and Buchnevich had faced the Oilers at Madison Square Garden. The Minnesota–born defenseman registered two of his nine assists this season in the 5-3 win. Buchnevich, who played in the KHL last season, did not score in his fourth game back after missing five with back spasms, playing just over 13 minutes on the fourth line. His scoring streak started the next game.

Skjei, who leads NHL rookies in assists this season, saw his six-game assist streak end against Calgary, but he has eight in the last 10 games. He was the first Rangers rookie defenseman to post a six-game assist streak since Brian Leetch in 1988-89.

“He’s more of a shutdown defenseman and that kind of allows me to get up the ice and create some offense,” said Skjei. “It helped that I had two practices with Marc, who has so much experience, before the [Calgary] game,” he said. “We talked a lot on the ice, and the bench, so that really helps.” And Buchnevich, whose conversational English is improving, appears to be settling in to North America.

But the talk around the league is growing: These two youngsters are making a mark and have been critical pieces in the Rangers puzzle.

New York Sports